Program passes wisdom from old to young

Rydal Park resident Donna Karfunkle talks with Eve Fang, an exchange student from China studying at Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy, about running a business.
Rydal Park resident Donna Karfunkle talks with Eve Fang, an exchange student from China studying at Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy, about running a business. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 26, 2013

ABINGTON Leo Kuehl, 97, leaned into his speaker's notes. His audience - about a dozen Chinese exchange students - sat up at the mention of his age.

"I started [life] in 1916. . . . Born on a farm in Minnesota," said Kuehl, of Rydal Park, a retirement community with 500 residents in Abington Township.

In life, as on the farm, he counseled, "when something needed doing, you did it. . . . If you think about it, and talk about it, and do nothing, it's idle, wasted time."

A few students nodded, digesting the life lesson.

Tuesday's get-together in a Rydal Park conference room was the first in a series of planned weekly meetings between these retirees, some with a near-century of life experience, and teens from the other side of the globe.

The visits are a joint project of Rydal and International Educational Opportunities, the exchange program that hosts the students in the United States. Based in Jenkintown, IEO this year sponsors 37 exchange students at nine local private schools.

Ideally, say IEO and Rydal organizers, the visits can be a two-way street, with students learning about life in America, and retirees learning about foreign cultures.

At the least they provide students with another opportunity to speak and hear English.

In some cases they get community-service credit at school for the civic engagement.

Future discussions may center on music, travel, food, religion, and medicine, said IEO program coordinator Christina Gaffney.

"The folks we have here have had amazing lives and done incredible things," said Rydal's director of life enrichment, Daniel Kaye. "When it comes to these young kids, they can show them what they have learned to be really important in life."

All but one student at the first meeting were girls attending Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy. The boy in the group attends Germantown Friends School. Most are high school juniors and seniors.

Kuehl, who retired after 47 years as a Honeywell accountant, and co-speaker Jay Karfunkle, 77, who owned a fire-safety equipment firm, spoke about what it takes to succeed in business, adding tips on how to live long, fulfilling lives.

Karfunkle, an avid bicyclist who rides every day at 5 a.m., said it's important to stay physically fit.

They advised students to pursue their passions, to "benefit other people as well as themselves," keep customers satisfied, and, oh, yeah, "Don't smoke."

Yue Fang, 17, who was born in Jiangsu, and in America is called "Eve," was the student group's most confident public speaker.

"How do you find balance between work and family life?" she asked.

"You have to super-charge your play" time, said Kuehl, who said he had visited 48 of the 50 states.

"I use exercise as a means of keeping my life in balance," Karfunkle said.

Then, with admiration for the students, he added: "I respect what you are doing. I would not want to be 10,000 miles from my home."


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

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